Small tour around Morocco with Intrepid Travel for two weeks
Corralejo, Canary Islands
Not exactly Morocco but it's where my trip starts.
Landing at the airport I quickly found that they only had one ATM and it was out of order and there was nowhere to exchange cash. So rather than getting the bus I was lumped with a taxi.
It was a small bump in what was a chilled five days in the little town of Corralejo in the north of Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands. It's a kiteboarding and surfing paradise so not quite my cup of tea but I really enjoyed the laid back vibe and the sun. Not the wind so much and you get dust from the Sahara blowing in which made it impossible to see Lanzarote across the way at times.
I found a relaxed hostel at the north end of town that had a nice back yard and deck leading down to the shore. I didn't get up to much during my time here apart from the beach, sun and cheap food and drink. Caught some of the World Cup matches and the F1 at a local bar, Alis Tavern, run by an Irish lady and her Italian boyfriend that was good value.
+10/07/2014Puerto del Rosario
Puerto del Rosario, Canary Islands
I decided a night in Puerto del Rosario might be good for a change of scene and I had an early flight in the morning. I probably should have listened more to what I'd been told, it's more industrial and not so enjoyable. Still it was a transit stop that helped me get to the airport in plenty of time, the bus being much more efficient than I'd expected.
San Agustin, Canary Islands
The original plan was to stay here in San Agustin at the bottom of Gran Canaria three nights then check out the rest of the Canary Islands. Somehow I've ended up extending another five nights. For £25 I've a studio apartment overlooking the pool to myself and it's blissful to just sit back and do nothing but enjoy the sun, cheap food and have the odd swim. I understand why quite a few Brits get hooked and end up here.
So I plan to just chill out for the week plus I have, catch up on some work stuff when I feel like it and just generally laze about. It's cheap and close enough that I'm sure I'll be back to check out more of the Islands at a later date.
Next up is Morocco for a two week tour through the main sites. Then maybe work which sounds like it might have something kicking off soon.
I walked the 2.5km from my first hotel near the train station to the one where I'll be meeting the intrepid tour in town. Not the nicest part of town with most of the walk stinking like urine but easy enough on a quiet day.
Check in was straight forward but the tour only started at six so I had half a day to kill. I spent this on a walk around town starting at the Arab League park then walking to the coast and the impressive Hassan II Mosque before making my way back along the shore to the harbour. There's a lot of development going on here and not not to see besides the construction sites. I then followed the wall down to a local market and made my way through the warren if streets before emerging on the other site and making my way back to the hotel for a rest before meeting the group.
Not all the group made it in that night but the rest of us headed out for a meal and I had a lamb tangine that was delicious. If the rest of the food lives up to it I'll be very happy.
My impressions of Casablanca are that it's a dirty city but more friendly than I'd expected. There a big contrast between some new modern buildings and the old. There seemed to be a lot of people sleeping in parks but a lot of them had laundry laid out about them drying in the sun.
I skipped the trip to the mosque in the morning as I'd already seen it yesterday. A few others did as well though those who went reported the the inside was really quite impressive. I've seen the inside of enough mosques to not be to bothered about missing out though.
Once everyone was back we caught the train from Casablance to Rabat. Here we had lunch then explored the medina before moving on to the Kasbar by the coast and finally the Mausoleum of Hassan. The sights were all ok, nothing really exciting but worth at least exploring.
In the afternoon it was another train to Meknes. Our tour leader convinced us to upgrade our train tickets so we had reserved seats and air con for the 2.5 hrs to Meknes. Dinner was Lemon Chicken Tagine but I suspect they just added a slide of lemon at the last minute, it certainly wasn't infused with any lemon flavour as I'd expected. We came out from dinner about 11pm and the town was a different place, the previously near dead streets at 8pm now filled with people out shopping and socialising.
In the morning we headed out to explore Meknes. We jumped in taxis to the old granaries which are an impressive structure with walls four meters thick. Next door the stables that use to hold 15,000 horses made an intriguing sight with all the pillars and arches slowly crumbling away.
From there we walked along the old wall until we reached the old prison, a structure similar to the granaries in many ways but under ground. The light streaming in through holes in the ceiling gave the place a surreal kind of feel.
Next up our guide took us into the medina where he passed on a lot of interesting info that I don't thin many of us took in as we melted in the 35 degree heat. Eventually we made it to our lunch, a camel burger, that was delicious.
From here we jumped on a minibus to the Roman ruins at Volubilis. These weren't that impressive but made a pleasant break in the trip to Fez.
Dinner was really. It was described as having traditional chicken pie at a local house. The place is more like a restaurant and clearly aimed at tour groups but it was the hosts wife and mother who were doing all the cooking and it was superb. It started with small bowls of about ten veges cooked in a variety of ways to share. The beet root, aubergine and corguette were particularly good, others included carrots, beans and lentils. All delicious. The pie was a surprise. Really sweet and served with sugar. Very nice though. The house itself was impressive. From the outside nothing to look at but on the inside huge and intricately decorated.
We started outside the royal palace before moving into the Jewish quarter and visiting a synagogue. Next stop was for a panoramic view of the city before heading down to a ceramic centre. It's here that the shopping trip began.
We headed into the medina after this where we visited the main tannery. This is the reason I've always wanted to visit Fez having seen it on some documentary. We viewed it from above which gave us some really nice photos but they'd taken the opportunity to make this into a big leather store.
Lunch was very similar to the dinner last night. The place an a really cool terrace on the roof though it wasn't in use while we were there. We headed to a carpet store next - which admittedly was in an impressive building, followed by a silver then silk shop.
All in all it was an OK day, myself and the other guys were well over the shopping by the end though the girls made the most of every opportunity. If it'd been an hour of two shorter I think the whole thing would have been a lot more pleasant. It didn't help that I wasn't remotely interested in buying anything I saw myself.
Today was essentially a transit day. We did stop to see some Barbary monkeys by the side of the road and a local market but we were on the move most of the day. There was one point where the country side was made up out of goat herds with these large tents with a large lump in the middle spread all around the hills.
The end point was a bizarre residence outside of Midelt. The place was huge and not very busy, I assume they rely on the tours passing through for business. It was a sprawling structure where the roof acted as a terrace and was covered in grape vines.
The weather here is much more overcast and windy compared to what we've encountered so far.
In the evening we walked down into the local village to have a look. A bit quiet because if Ramadan apparently but there was still a bunch if kids surrounding us by the end.
We headed south towards the Sahara today taking our time in order to avoid the worst of the heat. We arrived at our start point around 5pm before taking a one hour camel ride into the desert where we camped for the night.
The camp was fairly luxurious really and after a late dinner of chicken Tagine the light was killed and we slept under the stars.
Tahar woke us at 4:30am so we could catch the sunrise from the top of the dune. It was a serious mission to climb up and the angle was so steep it was more of a crawl. The sunrise itself was actually pretty lame and it turned out there wasn't even any benefit in being up the dune, walking round the corner would have worked just as well. The climb certainly was an experience though.
After the sunrise it was back on the camels for another hour before breakfast and back on the mini bus. We headed towards Todra Gorge where we had a swimming pool to relax in after our trip into the desert.
Todra Gorge, Morocco
Another early start, this time in order to complete a hike before the heat settled in. We left at 7:30am and started our hike at 8:00. It was a simple hike up the hill behind the gorge then down the other side. At the top we visited a Berber nomad family to get an idea for how they lived which seemed desperately hard. They had to travel down into the gorge each day to get water for themselves and there donkeys. Possessions were few and they had no power. The old man who talked to us was very kind and friendly and we were all happy to stay and pay for a mint tea in his tent.
When we finished the hike just after midday we had a lunch of traditional food which included Berber pizza, broad bean soup and cooked veges. This was followed by being shown carpets from a local co-op which resulted in a two hour session as some of the girls got into the shopping. I really could have done without it. We finally make it back to the hotel and the pool however.
Dinner was a Tagine Khalia which included beef, egg, a fig and the normal spices
+28/07/2014Ait Ben Haddou
Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco
Very hot day, we seem to be in the 40s now. It was mostly driving today but we had a stop in the afternoon where we could check out either a Berber pharmacy or a film studio. I chose the latter along with Will and Hannah while the ret did the pharmacy. The studio was a good choice but mainly because expectations were low and it was amusing how lame it was. Best line was that they filmed The English Patient there, then after everyone goes ahh, saying it was the tv series not the movie.
Late afternoon we arrived in Ait Ben Haddou which is one of the main sights I wanted to see on this trip. It's an old town built on a small hill that's been used in a number of movies including Gladiator and The Mummy.
We were given a quick demonstration on how to cook couscous and Tagine in the evening before dinner where I had the couscous as it was apparently a speciality here. It was definitely good but I much prefer the Tagine.
The night was hot, the fan in the room just blowing hot air on you. Still better than no fan though.
Our biggest drive day was actually really scenic as we headed into the Atlas Mountains. We had a small walk up to our accommodation in the valley leaving our bags locked up below. It was much cooler here compared to the heat we'd suffered the day before. Cooler and a nice breeze to keep it chill.
In the morning we had a short hike up the valley to see a shrine. We started early to avoid the midday heat and had a pleasant climb up the valley. Something a bit more challenging would have been nice but it meant we weren't too stinky when we got on the bus.
Lunch was on the terrace of the guesthouse overlooking the valley before we headed back to the bus and on to Essaouira. There was a stop at an argon coop along the way for a bit more shopping for the girls. Never heard of the stuff before but apparently it's expensive and good for hair and skin.
In Essaouira we had a meal at a restaurant that was a bit pricey but provided a lovely view of the sunset over the old wall by the sea.
We had tour around the medina in the morning. This went ok until the silver shop were there no seats so we ended up sitting on the ground in the sun waiting for some of the girls to go through the silver. It was another tour that turned into a shopping trip and myself and a couple of others were over it.
For lunch we went to e local fish market where Tahar bought a bunch of fish which he had cooked and we got stuck in with our hands. It was good apart from a couple of the prawns that tasted a bit dodgy. I quietly spat one out as I've no intention of getting a stomach bug right at the end. So far eight of thirteen have gone down on his trip!
The afternoon was free to wander about in the medina and finished up with dinner in a rooftop restaurant over the main square with another good view of the sunset.
Most of the day was spent lazing around before catching a 3pm bus to Marrakech where we arrived around 6pm.
We headed down to the main square for dinner at the stalls set up there. The place was absolutely packed with people and apparently it's like that every night with all sorts of street performers plying there trade in the centre if the square.
Marrakech is so much busier than any where else we've been with the streets full crazy traffic and people everywhere. I'm really not in the mood to appreciate it though, just wanting to chill out for the last few days before heading back to London.